With the conference season roaring into it's final two weeks, former Michigan staffer Mark Ouimet sizes up the Big Ten at this point, team by team.
The top two teams: Wisconsin and Michigan.
Wisconsin (9-0 overall, 6-0 in the Big Ten) is at top because of their defense. They're 2nd in the nation in overall defense, with 236 yards per game allowed.
It's unfortunate that Michigan and Wisconsin don't play. It would be a great game ... a great offense now (Michigan) against a great defense (Wisconsin).
It's too bad they can't even play in a bowl game ... Cal will get the at-large bid to the Rose Bowl (assuming they win out, as does USC to get into the National Championship Game). That will be a good game though -- Call against the Big Ten winner, which will be Wisconsin if they win out.
Michigan is undefeated because of their offense. They're averaging 30 points a game. The Michigan coaches have done a great job with two youngsters at the key spots (Chad Henne and Mike Hart), bringing them along as quickly and smoothly as they have.
Wisconsin is on the road to end their season, vs MSU and Iowa. I think they will get by MSU. If so, Michigan needs Iowa to beat the Badgers. Iowa has the 10th best defense in the nation.
And in the meantime Michigan has to take care of their own against Northwestern this weekend and OSU next. If the Wolverines lose to OSU they would still be #2 in the Big Ten if Wisconsin beats Iowa ... and if Michigan and Wisconsin both lose, U-M would again be the co-champ but would lose the tiebreaker to Wisconsin as far as the Rose Bowl goes.
The #3 team is Iowa (7-2, 5-1), which has lost only to Aruzona State and Michigan, both in September.
Iowas is a team that, like Michigan, is very young offensively with Drew Tate at quarterback, and, they are down to their 6th tailback I believe. And they have grown into a solid team. It's good for Michigan that the Wolverines played them when they did (not that U-M would lose at this point, but back in late Sept. U-M was definitely ahead of Iowa in their development). Defensively they are sound -- their defense is #10 in the country behind a solid defensive line. And Iowa was improved becase their offense jelled. Their quarterback Drew Tate is growing like Henne. And no matter which running back goes down, a RB steps up. The Wisconsin-Iowa game will let everyone know how good Iowa is. Iowa will give Wisconsin a solid game. I think Wisconsin will win but it won't be cakewalk. Wisconsin will make Tate scramble ... no one has done that except Michigan.
The next team in the Big Ten is Northwestern (5-4, 4-2), but Michigan should beat them ... if so the rest of the Big Ten will have 3 losses or more.
Northwestern does not have the same stread offense as some Wildcat teams of the past, nordo they have a great defense. Michigan should be able to put 30+ points on the board.
Ohio State (6-3, 3-3) has bounced back after their Iowa loss ... they lost 3 in a row in the Big Ten then won 3 in a row, beating Indiana, PSU, and MSU.
This week they have another good matchup against Purdue ... my guess is OSU will win it. And Orton has a hip pointer,was out against Iowa and probably will be out again. Look for OSU to win.
OSU game a change at quarterback -- Cleveland Glenville's (Pierre Woods' school) Troy Smith has played the last 4 games, coming in against Iowa when they'd been blown out. He's a young quarterback with a toung offense. As far as their defense goes, everyone knows about their linebackers ...they're #36 in country in defense. They are a different team from early on in the season. And obviously, another Glenville kid, Ted Ginn, has found his home at wide receiver and kick returner and is a force out there. Michigan vs. OSU will be 'old fashioned UM/OSU'. U-M has more athletes with 'Cooper's guys' gone, but ...
Five Big Ten teams are Bowl Eligible ... Wisconsin (9-0, 6-0), Michigan (8-1, 6-0), Iowa (7-2, 5-1), OSU (6-3, 3-3),and Minnesota (6-4, 3-4).
Minnesota (6-4, 3-4) has one game left, vs. Iowa. So they will finish 6-5, just like I predicted at the beginning of the season.
Michigan State (4-5, 3-3) has only 3 Big Ten losses, but they have to win their last three games to be bowl eligible, and Wisconsin, I believe, will beat them this Saturday. MSU's game plan vs. Wisconsin will be like against U-M -- they will use everything, they HAVE to win to stay on track to bowl eligibility. Last Saturday against OSU, Damon Dowdell played poorly in the 1st quarter -- the whole team played bad early after their heartbreaker vs U-M (they had a great offensive gameplan against U-M and their defense let them down). To their credit they picked it up in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th quarters. And as ai said, they absolutely have to win this week.
Purdue (5-4, 2-4) ends with OSU and Indiana the next two weeks, and has to win one more to be bowl eligible. They will beat Indiana. But they have lost 4 straight ... whereas OSU has bounced back after losing their first three conference games, Purdue has not achieved that.
One final stat: Michigan's opponents' record is 42-40 ... which points out that this isn't the strongest year for the Big Ten.
Mark Ouimet On The Big Ten Race
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